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Middle East

Yemen Eyewitness: They sang. They danced. Some even slaughtered cows

The capital's main square erupted in jubilation at the news that the 33-year-long rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh might finally be over. They danced. They screamed. They sang.

The party was already in full swing by the early hours of yesterday morning. Fireworks filled the sky and some slaughtered cows in celebration as the news spread that the President had left the country on Saturday night to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Soldiers and civilians joined together, waving their Jambiya daggers in traditional dances to now famous songs of the revolution. Army officers were hoisted on to the shoulders of triumphant demonstrators.

"The people have brought down the regime," bellowed thousands of protesters who have occupied Change Square in front of Sanaa University for more than four months, weathering tear gas, police batons, and AK-47 fire.

However, as protesters celebrate, military checkpoints run by Yemen's Central Security Forces still dot the capital. These soldiers are under the command of President Saleh's eldest nephew, Yahya Saleh, who remains in the country, as does his eldest son Ahmed, head of the Republican Guard.

As the announcement of President Saleh's departure reached the nation, both Yahya and Ahmed ordered their men to re-engage the dug-in positions of armed rebel tribesmen in the northern Hasaba district of Sanaa. Explosions and gunfights continued in the capital and Taiz in the south, but they did little to dampen the spirits of those in the square. Young men with painted faces waved Yemeni flags and flashed "V" for victory signs.

As the news trickled through that President Saleh intends to return to the capital, the electric atmosphere continued but that familiar fighting spirit emerged once more.

Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman for the opposition party bloc, vowed they would do everything in their power to keep Mr Saleh from crossing the border back into Yemen.